August 7, 2013

Watson must open for long-term gains

That's where he wants to play and he knows he will be judged on his results at the top of the order

The mood in the Australian camp should be positive after the Old Trafford Test, even though the chance to regain the Ashes is gone. At the end of the Lord's Test I don't think anyone was really contemplating a turnaround that would return the urn to Australia. But looking at the bigger picture, they have taken some important positive steps in the overall development of this team, not just for this tour but the return series in Australia and the coming years as well.

But they have left themselves with a conundrum by shifting David Warner up the order in place of Shane Watson in the second innings in Manchester. Warner would have loved and relished that opportunity, given the match situation, and he looked much more comfortable walking in against the new ball than taking on the offspin of Graeme Swann.

That said, if I was picking the batting order, I would have Shane Watson opening again for the fourth Test in Chester-le-Street and Warner coming in at No. 6. I think that's the order that could prove most beneficial in the long term. Warner will play the majority of his Test cricket in Australia, and given the pace and bounce in the pitches at home, coming in at No. 6 won't be an issue for him as it might be in some countries like India and England.

Before the series, I was of the opinion that Watson had to return to the top of the order, and I still believe that is where he is best suited to batting. That's where Watson himself wants to play and he knows he will be judged on his results there. He hasn't yet been able to nail a big score in this series but his role in the successful first innings can't be forgotten. He didn't reach a personal milestone but if you have an opening partnership of 70 or 80 on the first day of a Test, both openers have done their job.

Watson has batted in every position from No. 1 to 5 in the past year of Test cricket but he clearly prefers to open. I don't think Warner would be too concerned about his position in the order; such is his mindset. Every player is different in that way. Andrew Symonds was never worried about changing positions but Damien Martyn was a guy who loved structure and, even in the short verison, liked to know his role and prepare for it without being shuffled around.

I can understand why they changed the order in the second innings at Old Trafford. They were probably spoiled for choice, which is quite ironic given the concerns around the batting order in recent times. Watson is a short-version opener and we know Warner's record in trying to be aggressive at the top, and Chris Rogers was the player who hit the ball best in the first innings. I'm not sure which way they will go with the batting order in Chester-le-Street, but I hope Watson opens.

One player whose role at Old Trafford might slip under the radar, but shouldn't, is Brad Haddin. It was a fantastic turnaround for Haddin. His contribution in that match was outstanding and everything you would hope for from an experienced vice-captain who is also a high-quality batsman and wicketkeeper. He ticked every box after coming in for a lot of criticism.

I especially commend him for being able to turn things around at Old Trafford, because the conditions and the crowd element make it a tough venue for overseas players. I remember having a terrible game there with the gloves during an Under-19 tour in 1991 and it was no better when I played there in the 2005 Ashes - I had an absolute horror of a Test there. My concerns for Hadds, given the venue, were high but he absolutely nailed it with both bat and gloves.

It goes without saying that the Australians will know they have climbed their way back into this series - though the chance to regain the Ashes is now gone. It was a great effort from England to retain the Ashes, for the third consecutive time now. They got things right at the important times in the first two Tests, at Trent Bridge and Lord's, and that has been the difference.

But now the Australians are happy about the quick turnaround for another series, because they will feel they have inflicted a few wounds on England. They have a terrific opportunity to back it up with two more positive Tests and then go back home to Australia and really challenge England in more familiar conditions. One thing is certain: things look much brighter now than they did two weeks ago.

Adam Gilchrist was speaking to Brydon Coverdale

Adam Gilchrist played 96 Tests for Australia as a wicketkeeper-batsman and was part of three winning Ashes campaigns